In 1946, Red Barber misquoted Leo Durocher during an interview and a stomach ache-inducing sports cliche was born: “Nice guys finish last.”  For years, that mantra has been run into the ground to explain away the struggles of slumping hitters, soft offensive linemen and glass-jawed power forwards.  In the meantime, the sporting world has celebrated the ”Billy Badass” image built to encourage irascible athletes who live and die with the result of every game.  There is no greater example of this than Michael Jordan: the greatest basketball player of the last 30 years, a champion in every sense of the word; a man who held almost as much disdain for his opponents as he did for losing.  But there’s a time and place for being a competitor, and there’s a difference between being a competitor and being a jerk.  Somehow, these distinctions have been lost.
The bravado and machismo that exists in sports is part of what makes us love it: watching Albert Pujols’ drive against Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS is the closest we’ll ever get to witnessing a real-life cowboy gunfight.  There’s no way the average guy stuck toiling away in an office is ever going to come close to that feeling during the course of his career.  What makes these performances so great is that they take place on the field, and they are just that: “performances.”  They aren’t words uttered at a press conference by a mediocre pitcher or a chesty quarterback using his name to procure shots at a college bar.   
Exemplification of this phenomenon took place this weekend with Oakland A’s pitcher Dallas Braden.  Shortly before throwing his perfect game on Sunday, Braden reignited controversy about the unwritten rule Alex Rodriguez broke by crossing over “Braden’s mound” weeks ago.  He promised retribution in kind, repping the tough-guy attitude of Stockton, CA (which is new to me — why didn’t NWA write “Straight Outta Stockton?”), barely cloaking his intent to physically injure Rodgriguez the next time they played… in July.  So why was he talking about it during a series in May with the Tampa Bay Rays?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Nonetheless, because our universe works in cruel, unforgiving ways, Braden threw the 19th perfect game in Major League history.  On Sunday, he was celebrated.  Hell, even Grandma got in on the action when she told A-Rod to “stick it.”  I wonder where he learned it from.
Questions of sportsmanship aside, the past week we were inundated with stories about athletes gone wrong: the murder of a young woman at the University of Virginia by her lacrosse-playing boyfriend, the arrest of Hall-of-Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor for reportedly raping a 16 year-old girl, and of course, the on-going sagas of Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger.  I’m not going to postulate about why athletes act the ways that they do, but I just wonder if every once in awhile, they could stop being jerks, and if that’s too much to ask, then at least be a man and do it on the field. 
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